How To Get Buy-In From Top Management And Operators
Published on: Jul 5, 2023

Engineers and project managers have one of the hardest tasks out there: change minds. But how do you do it so you can get buy-in from top management and operators for your tech initiative?

Like it or not, the tech part of a project is the easy one. The hard one is tapping into the psychological aspects of a digital transformation initiative in order to know how to convince and help people navigate it. And people… well, you know. They’re lovely and fascinating, but oh boy are they hard to convince and please sometimes. 

Did I lose you at the mention of psychology? 

Ok, ok, don’t worry. Nothing fluffy will be going on in this article, I know it’s annoying. Yes, it’s about psychology and you need to understand a few things about how the human mind works, but they have practical applications, which I’m going to lay out for you as steps to go through. 

Where to start 

Familiarise yourself with the current situation and the possibilities 

The underrated step is admitting that you have a problem on your hands. Or rather, a problem that you will have to deal with soon. 

I’m telling you this because we are all busy people. You already have a lot on your plate, the last thing you want is an overwhelming project—be it with fantastic benefits. If you could avoid it forever, you would. 

But if we as integrators with 7 years of experience could get you to take our word when it comes to one thing, let it be this: at some point, the problem will become pressing. You will have to do something. And it’s going to take time. 

So, prepare yourself by gaining a deeper understanding of the current situation and what the “after” could look like for you. 

Here’s the catch, though: you’re not gaining an understanding so you can deliver a one-hour fancy presentation to the top management, but a 10-min straightforward explanation of where we are, why it’s a problem, and how a solution will benefit the business. 

You’re gaining an understanding so you can tailor your message to each of the decision-makers’ requirements. Each person from your buying committee will have a different idea of what’s needed. If you can get down to what they call “first principles”, meaning finding the simple essence of the problem and the solution, you will be more likely to get them on board. 

Keep in mind: money and risk are always the two greatest obstacles. 

Show, not just tell 

No matter who you’re going to have to talk to – be it a boss or an end user – you have to be prepared. Preparation means doing your homework regarding the problem you’re facing, what you want to achieve, and how. 

Here’s a real story from our audience about how they convinced their top management to approve a budget for a project: 

An automation engineer is currently the lead of the digitalisation and automation part of a large pharma company, in charge of connecting machines and extracting data. He wants to improve operational efficiency and maintenance, but he has legacy equipment that’s difficult and expensive. 

When the time came to dive into Visualisation and data analytics, he built a quick dashboard in NodeRed for one of the production lines to show the management what they want to achieve. “To get investment from the management, we have to make sure they see how important it is, how it helps us”, he says. 

Then, he checked several platforms that were recommended to him, and found that: 

  • They were much too complex for their needs, 
  • The cost was ridiculously high. 

… but then, they got to Ignition. 

(No, this is not an ad, this is a real story from a member of our audience) 

Ignition was attractive thanks to the price and the unlimited clients and tags. He got the “go”, but it wasn’t easy. He was quite alone on this journey, being the only one who was responsible for teaching himself Ignition and implementing it bit by bit. 

Today, after he learned how to get buy-in from top-management, he has multiple machines connected to Ignition, with new ones on the way. They have used almost all of Ignition’s features and it’s an important part of their operation now.

Moral of the story? Be prepared, but not (just) with words – spend a day or two connecting some things and building a quick visualisation solution or a solution that solves a small problem. Why? To prove the value of your initiative. 

Extra tip: try out different platforms. 

Your top management will inevitably ask you “did we check all the platforms that are out there?”. Of course they ask that, nobody wants to draw the short straw. 

Check them out, there are plenty. If you ask us, we can only answer say that Ignition is the way, but that’s just us. Here’s why we love Ignition, though, if you’re interested. 

Why people are reluctant and what to do about it

As I’ve mentioned above, different stakeholders have different goals and requirements. Let’s go through the main ones. 

The operators

Look, changing the status quo isn’t pretty. It’s uncomfortable. Imagine working with a system for decades, and then one day you have to get familiar with tech you didn’t even know was possible. Anxiety comes in, you’re afraid of looking stupid while learning, and you want to avoid it as much as possible. Or, if avoidance isn’t in the books, at least have the solution be so easy that you don’t have to put in the effort to go through the uncomfortable stages of learning. 

Of course, not all operators/end users are created the same. Some will be more open than others, but you have to understand that we’re all only human, and we just try to avoid the unknown. 

Here are some reasons operators may be reluctant to change: 

  • May not understand the benefits of the new technology or how to use it, 
  • May fear that their jobs are in danger—the new technology may replace them or make them obsolete, 
  • May struggle with the technical requirements of the new technology. 

… and the biggest reason of all: change is just uncomfortable. 

What to do:

Talk to them. This is not just generic advice or a cliche—well, ok, maybe it’s a cliche, but they become so for a reason: they’re true. They work. 

Once you go through the steps above, you have the ability to do two things: 

  • Listen to their requirements, goals, and concerns. Move them through the filter you built with the knowledge from the steps above, and understand how you could help. 
  • Explain what’s possible and how it will benefit them. Tell them it doesn’t have to be overwhelming and fast. They will get all the training and help they need to navigate the changes. Our clients used our infographics to explain things easily. 

The point is to consult them, keep them informed and involved. You probably won’t be able to fulfill their every demand, nor do you have to, especially at the beginning, but keeping them in the loop (and doing so as often as possible) will help you make the project a success. 

Not to sound cheesy, but the truth is that you will have to equip yourself with a good dose of empathy. Put yourself in their shoes – even though new tech is exciting, people have enough on their minds and change is just adding fuel to the fire. 

Be firm in your communication that change is coming and they will have to adapt, but be willing to help them navigate it. 

The top management

Several stakeholders are included here, from the financial and procurement department to the VP of Technology, CEO, production managers etc. I’m putting them all into a bucket because you’ll probably have them participating in the meetings as a buying committee.

Top management isn’t necessarily reluctant to change, but they sure are reluctant to risks. That’s the nuance that you should keep in mind – they may be on board with an initiative that will, as predictable as possible, be benefiting the business, but anything that’s going to rock the boat will raise concerns. 

I’ve asked you guys on Reddit about your experience with getting buy-in. Inevitably, a reply like this came: 

This has been our clients’ experience as well‌. Our best guess is that it comes from a few “traumatising” decades of systems with ridiculously high price points, keeping you up at night when the time to upgrade comes because not only is it a burden to your financial side, but also a hassle that involves downtime, difficulties, and errors. 

The main question here: what’s the return on investment for this and how do we maximise it while keeping the costs low? I know—easy, peasy, right? No pressure. 

Additional concerns you should keep in mind are: 

  • May not be aware of the benefits of the project, 
  • May be concerned with integrating the new technology with the existing systems, 
  • May lack the technical savvy to understand the requirements and goals, 
  • May resist the changes in the company culture as a requirement for a successful project. 

What to do:

Credit: FullFunnel

To be honest, this is an infographic from some marketing guys, which is to say that we all deal with similar challenges in getting buy-in. It’s a fantastic representation of the different hoops you will go through. 

– Get familiar with the problem and present it, as mentioned above 

– Show a solution

– Clearly state its importance and why it should be a priority (or what parts of it you should focus on) 

– Explain the root cause of the problem and how it affects the business

– Suggest a way to handle it (i.e. start small with a specific problem from the daily operations, build something within a set budget, get some help from an integrator, report on results) 

– Start the PoC 

– Show the progress 

– Next steps and scaling

Start somewhere

If you’re anything like your clients, the first thing you’ll want to do will be to download Ignition (or whatever platform you want), play around with it, and even build something to demonstrate value. 

Just like in the example above—it’s a good idea! It’ll take some time to research and build something on your own, but it’ll be worth the effort. You can use our demo of a high-performance HMI for inspiration if you want. 

As a quick story, one of our clients was asked by his boss how easy it was to get some machines connected using Ignition. His answer: surprisingly easy, a matter of minutes. That immediately put a seed in the committee’s brain: “ok, this may be interesting”. 

So, download your choice for the platform, get some things connected, build a quick dashboard to demonstrate the value, and go to your top management with your homework well done. 

Nota bene: “homework well done” doesn’t mean just a pretty and functional solution. It also means a well thought out business case as to how that solution is going to benefit the business. 

Extra tip: be aware that you will have to repeat things over and over again to get people to understand what you’re doing and why. Make a habit of keeping your stakeholders informed – often, about the same points. They’ll simply forget otherwise.  

Set expectations

Make it clear that this can’t be an input-output kind of thing in all aspects. It’d be a miracle to be able to say “ok, we’re going to invest this sum in this solution and we’re going to get the exact X results in Y number of years”. 

And yes, your bosses won’t like the fact that it can’t go like that. 

Instead, turn it upside down. Start like this: 

“Give me a budget for a proof-of-concept project”. That way, the financial department, and the interested stakeholders will perceive the risks as limited. We have a small problem that we can solve, the budget is set, the timeframe is set, and it won’t be a strain on the production. 

Again, talk money, not a lot of downtime, and improvements in efficiency, and you will have yourself a positive forecast.

Extra tip: start off with some bullet points of specific things you want to achieve. Agree on them with your stakeholders, and repeatedly come back to them as things progress – “did we achieve this?”, “is this what we want?”. 

Show you got it

Your bosses don’t need another task on their plate. Make it clear to them that you’re responsible for the initiative and all its tasks – from talking to the operators and building specs to choosing external consultants to help.

Show up prepared with explanations and the next steps and take responsibility for seeing the project through. You’ll make them feel like they get to enjoy the benefits without having the (full) burden on their shoulders. They’ll be more willing to support you when necessary.

Take-home points 

  • People usually don’t have bad intentions or oppose changes just for fun. There’s a deeper problem that has to be addressed—and it’s usually fear. Of failure, of looking stupid, of rocking the boat, of loss of some kind. The bad news is that it requires time and effort to navigate. The good news is that it’s completely possible—and our clients are the proof. Apply the things above in your situation. 
  • Show, don’t just tell. Build something small to prove the value of new tech. 
  • Getting approvals and budgets is done incrementally. Find problems to solve on the plant floor, over and over again. The long-term vision is sustained by several small steps. 
  • Always bring it back to the business—yes, it’s a tech solution, but it’ll ultimately benefit the business. Build your business case.
  • Communicate clearly and do it often. People forget, they’re busy. Reinforce the “why” of your initiative, what you’re doing to get there, and what support you need. 

Watch our video on the risks of an IIoT project to learn more:

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